January 9, 2014

Poet hopes to create sense of community with open mic, poetry series

With the aid of a cafe owner and the visionary who started a successful Salina poetry series, Joshua Gwinn wants to see a community emerge in Wichita that is all about the power of words.

With the aid of a cafe owner and the visionary who started a successful Salina poetry series, Joshua Gwinn wants to see a community emerge in Wichita that is all about the power of words.

Gwinn, whose stage moniker is Popeye, will host One Mic: Open Mic and Poetry Series at Anna Murdoc’s Cafe, 209 E. William, Suite 101, at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The poetry series is “a lovely alternative to the mundane club, movie and bar scene,” Gwinn said. As a poetry series, any form of verbal expression without instrumental backing is allowed.

Gwinn got the idea from open mic in Salina, which started in October 2012 and is run by Cash Hollistah, who invited Gwinn as the featured poet late last year.

“I was one of those people who believed there’s nothing in Salina except for roads and tumbleweed and dirt, but I became so attached to the environment,” Gwinn said.

Within a 30-minute window at a Salina open mic session on Nov. 20, the group heard poems from a former convict, a Rastafarian, a city council member, a teacher, a banker and a business owner, Gwinn said.

“In no other area of their lives would those people have been together, gotten along, or known each other’s names except for at a poetry reading,” Gwinn said.

Gwinn asked Hollistah if he would mind branching out into Wichita.

Enter Gerard Rodriguez, owner of Anna Murdoc’s Cafe, who wanted to have the poetry series at his business.

Everybody who signs up shares one or two poems, spending about five minutes on stage. Then musical guest Ryan Leiker will share a few songs, featured poet Greg Walker will share a few pieces, and they go through the list again, giving everybody a chance to share one or two more poems.

While it’s impossible to say what type of poetry will be performed – a sheet of paper is set out at the beginning of the night, and anybody who wants to can sign up – Gwinn is confident that “you will hear something from someone who you’ve never met before,” he said. “You will hear something from a perspective you never thought of or never told anybody. I’ve never been through a reading that didn’t leave me feeling something.”

Gauging the Salina series, the pieces run the gamut, Gwinn said: heartbreaking pieces, funny pieces, amazing pieces, not-so-amazing pieces.

The main tagline of One Mic is “a way to express,” Gwinn said.

This is the simplest way to sum up what the series is all about: a way for a person to share a story – whether he or she is a first-timer, an open mic veteran, or even an artist making money.

“Words to me – and this is going to start out cliche and cheesy – are a way of life,” said Gwinn, who had his share of struggles growing up. It wasn’t until Gwinn “found the power of the pen and the pad” that he was able to get it out of his system.

“It probably kept me out of the news and out of jail,” Gwinn said. “It’s a release that I think a lot of people are missing in life: a pure way to get outside yourself.”

Gwinn realized there were other poets in Wichita, so he set out to host an open mic night.

“I thought poetry was a bunch of people wearing berets, snapping fingers, playing bongo drums and talking about their ex-girlfriends,” Gwinn said. “I had no interest. Instead, I heard these amazing wordsmiths spitting their hopes and pains in front of complete strangers, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

To Gwinn it demonstrates the importance of community: an overwhelming sense of having a purpose and not being afraid to share it with like-minded people. This doesn’t mean that those attending have to like, agree or clap at the poems shared.

Ultimately, Gwinn would like the Wichita poetry series to be a sustainable community event that is hosted on the first Friday of every month while the Salina poetry series continues on the third Friday of every month, he said. Because of New Year’s Day, the debut is taking place on the second Friday of January.

“Today’s world has done everything in its power to pigeonhole, to eliminate the individual, to make us all little boxes,” Gwinn said. “An open mic is the idea that that’s not OK.”

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